Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Six

Well, Father Christmas didn’t disappoint me on the gin stakes. The first bottle I unwrapped was a rather splendid affair, a rather squat, hexagonal shaped bottle, whose label, printed on Japanese washi paper, told me that it was Roku Gin.

Marketing is everything, at least when it comes to gin in order to get an edge in the crowded market spawned by the ginaissance. Roku is Japanese for six and the spirit uses six botanicals which are representative of the Land of the Rising Sun. But the name is a tad misleading as there are another eight botanicals which go into the mix. Perhaps it should be called Ju Yon, not as catchy perhaps, but more representative of what is actually in the drink.

The label has an elegant and distinctive design featuring the number six in Kanji script. The hexagon bottle is rather sensual to the touch, it oozes elegance and class, and each facet of the bottle features one of the traditional Japanese botanicals.

What might be described as the rhythm section of the gin is made up of eight botanicals which this writer, at least, is delighted to find in the mix – the old favourites, juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange and lemon peel. The base spirit is neutral grain-based, rather than anything fancy like sake.

And now to the Japanese botanicals.

I suppose most occidentals’ stereotypical view of Japan is a land of cherry blossom and this gin does nothing to recalibrate conceptions. Roku takes the flower and the leaf of the Sakura, that beautiful and rather delicate ornamental cherry which are a delight to even Western gardens. They bloom in late winter and early spring and represent renewal, rebirth, the start of another cycle of life.

Another traditional image of Japan is a land of elaborate tea ceremonies and two forms of green tea are added to the hooch. We have sencha which means new tea and, as its name suggests, is the first crop of the year and considered to be the most tasty. It is supposed to have health-giving properties. We will see. The other variant of green tea in the mix is gyokuro which appears later in the year and is grown under shade rather than the full sun.

The next flavour of the Orient added to the mix is Sansho pepper. They consist of little green, unripened pods from the Japanese prickly ash and have a citrus taste with a bit of a fierce peppery kick. To complete the sextet we have yuzu peel form, unsurprisingly, a fruit called yuzu which is a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin. The peel is used particularly in miso soup.

So, what is it like?

The scewcap top releases an exotic aroma infused with cherry and green tea. To the taste the spirit is rich and oily, it louched when I added tonic, with the traditional gin notes soon giving way, briefly, to the cherry blossom, before the tea with its tannic overtones takes over. It becomes quite bitter and peppery with hints of citrus in the aftertaste.

At 43% ABV, the Roku for the Japanese domestic market weighs in at 47%, it struck me as an elegant, well-balanced and interesting gin, one to savour and a welcome addition to my groaning gin shelf. Suntory, who launched the gin internationally in 2017, have come up with a winner here.

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Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Five

Sitting here writing this post, summer seems so far away. It is the time of year that TOWT and I flee cold, misty, and frosty Blighty for warmer climes for a bit of winter sun.

There is a school of thought that gin is a summer drink, best enjoyed sitting outside when the sun is setting. That may be so and there are certain gins, generally with more of a floral overload, that seem best suited for quaffing al fresco but for the true aficionado gin is surely an all around the year drink. Such is the wide variety of the gins available, courtesy of the ginaissance, that it is possible to find one whose attributes either fit in perfectly with the prevailing weather conditions – perhaps one with a high spice content for those winter evenings – or help you recapture the mood of a balmy summer evening.

I have already commented that one of the trends in the gin world in 2018 is the production of coloured and flavoured gins. Pink, particularly strawberry, and orange seem very much on trend this year and you can tell something is stirring in the undergrowth when one of the undoubted big boys join in.

For me, Tanqueray, owned by Diageo, can do nothing wrong. Their No 10 is to die for and their London Dry Gin is always a reliable companion. I always ensure that I have one or the other (or both) on my shelf for those times when I want to return to the arms of a faithful companion. In April 2018 they added another to their range, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla.

It comes in the familiar, Tanqueray-shaped bottle, fluted with an indentation near the neck in which is the Tanqueray seal. But instead of bottle-green the glass is clear, the better to show off the coloured spirit, which looks a bit like Lucozade. The label is colourful featuring segments of oranges and the legend advises that it is made with bittersweet Seville oranges.

On opening the screwcap, the aroma is a heady mix of oranges and juniper and despite my scepticism about flavoured gins, I found it inviting. To the taste it was not as sickly as I had anticipated, the zesty taste of the oranges complemented by the traditional botanicals of Tanqueray’s London Dry Gin. With an ABV of 41.3% it makes for a very satisfying, smooth drink, fruity and full of flavour, leaving a nice sensation of orange and spice as an aftertaste.

The inspiration for this gin, apart from jumping on a bandwagon, is apparently a recipe concocted by Charles Tanqueray himself whilst he was traipsing around the orange groves of Spain. The cynic in me thinks that it is London Dry Gin with oranges added but I’m sure there is more to it than that.

If flavoured gins are your bag, then you can do no worse than go for the one produced by one of the acknowledged market leaders. Did it transport me to the sun-soaked orange groves of Spain? I’m not sure. I will have to drink a bit more of it to be able to give you a definitive answer.

There will be no more gin reviews until Father Christmas has been. So, until 2019, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Four

There must be some consolations to be had for pushing a rather battered trolley around the grubby aisles of an Aldi supermarket. Well, on my last trip to our local outlet, I found one at least. They are bringing their fetching approach of stack them untidily, sell ‘em cheap to the ginaissance and have a rather intriguing selection of gins available.

The one that particularly caught my eye was a rather squat, rectangular-shaped bottle with a rather unobtrusive, if not apologetic, label. Picking it up, I saw that it was Beckett’s London Dry Gin, the brain child of the eponymous Neil Beckett and which has been around since 2014. It is distilled at Kingston Distillers. The label, white with a pale green surround of branches and juniper berries, was unusually informative, always a bonus I find when browsing through gins. Intrigued by the write-up in Ginventory, I decided to give it a go and what a find it was.

As often is the case with gins, there is a back story to the gin, usually a desperate attempt to find that ever elusive marketing edge. But at least with Beckett’s there is a conservationist angle, if that is your bag. The junipers are hand-picked from Box Hill in the rolling Surrey Downs. They claim, and I have no reason to doubt them, that it is the only the gin, to date, that uses juniper grown and picked in England. The cynic in me says that there is usually a very good reason something is not used but the proof of the botanical is in the drinking.

What is laudable about using English juniper is that it is an attempt to reverse the lamentable decline in the fortunes of the berry here in Blighty. A combination of poor seed quality, disease and, until recently, the decline in interest in gin has meant that juniper has almost been eradicated from large parts of the country. As a quid pro quo for using the junipers, Beckett’s gin is being used as a flagship for the juniper conservation effort. If more distillers follow Beckett’s lead, then there may be a chance that juniper will re-establish itself here.

Along with the juniper, five other botanicals are added to the neutral grain spirit to produce the hooch – mint grown in Kingston upon Thames, lime and coriander from Morocco, orris root from Italy, and orange peel from Spain. You will probably have gathered by now, if you read these posts on a regular basis, that I am a fan of relatively simple gins using a small number of botanicals which allow the juniper to take the lead. This gin certainly ticks that box.

The label informed me that it was from Batch no LDG17 and was bottle number 5018. Come in No 5018, your time is up. Removing the grey foil from the neck of the bottle and the artificial stopper, the aroma that greeted me was one heavily influenced by juniper with hints of citrus and, perhaps, mint. To the taste it presented as a well-balanced gin with the juniper blending well with the citrus elements and the mint giving it a rather bittersweet taste and a long, cool, refreshing aftertaste.

It made for a very satisfying drink and at 40% ABV is one that is going to encourage you to have another one.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Three

For those of us who surf the ginaissance and like to stock our drinks cabinet with hitherto untried gins, sourcing the stuff can be a bit of a problem. For sure, there are a plethora of on-line wholesalers but by the time you have added postage and packing into the equation, what seemed like a bit of a bargain can turn into an expensive acquisition. Trips to Cornwall have to be rationed and so I’m left with the local supermarkets and offies.

I was getting a bit fed up with our local branch of Waitrose. They have an extensive range of gins, to be sure, but by now I had sampled all of their buyer’s selections. On a recent visit, though, I spotted a bottle of Cotswold Dry Gin which I seized with the alacrity that a cobra does an unfortunate rat.

It comes in a rather distinctive, and dare I say it, elegant dark-green bottle, almost like a premium wine, with a dark, wine bottle-like label at the front, silver edged bearing the name of the spirit, the logo of a pheasant fanning its tail and date that the gin was established, 2014. My bottle was the first of 7,500 from the 19th batch produced in 2017, or so a signed second label stuck on at a jaunty diagonal angle tells me. It is stunning and can be purchased in a gift box if you are foolhardy enough, and generous enough, to part with it.

A neutral, pure wheat spirit used as the base in a 500-litre copper pot still, to which is added some water. The base botanicals – juniper, coriander seeds and angelica – are added and left to mascerate overnight for around 15 hours. The rest of the nine botanicals used are then added – lavender, grapefruit, bay leaf, lime, black pepper, and cardamom – and the mix is then slowly boiled. The first and last third of the resultant mix are discarded, and then allowed to rest for five days before being diluted down to its very feisty fighting weight of 46% ABV.

One thing to note is that a large amount of the botanicals is used in the process, the result of which is that the eventual gin is somewhat on the oily side and when ice and/or a mixer is added, it can cloud, a phenomenon known as louching. Just think of what happens when you add water to ouzo. If a crystal-clear gin is your thing, either drink it neat or steer clear.

Upon removing the artificial stopper protected by a foil a la wine, the aroma is one of citrus and, perhaps, lavender with the heavy tones of juniper lurking in the background. To the taste the gin is initially rather sweet but eventually the pepper fights its way through and then the juniper and lavender make an appearance. In the mouth it has a rather oily texture but not in an unpleasant way. The aftertaste is a well-balanced blend of sweet and spice. I found it very refreshing and a nice twist on a juniper-led gin.

The story behind the gin is one that is by now very familiar. Master mind Daniel Szor, a former hedge fund investor, established a distillery in the beautiful village of Stourton, near Shipston-on-Stour, deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, in 2012, the first distillery in the area. The plan was to distil whisky, a long and time-consuming affair, and one which can have a significant impact on cash-flow when there are significant fixed costs to absorb.

The answer, of course, was to introduce a product range that was available and ready to sell in a much shorter time frame – gin. And so this rather intriguing and high-quality gin was born.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Two

My wife and I are regular visitors to our local garden centre, she on the hunt for bargain-basement plants and I in search of unusual gins. Such is the power of the ginaissance that anywhere that attracts the middle classes with a chunk of disposable income jangling in their pocket seems to want to cash in on this particular gravy train.

To give Longacres their due, they do avoid the common or garden varieties and I have found there, on occasion, something that piques my interest. On a recent visit I stumbled across a bottle of Aber Falls Small Batch Welsh Dry Gin or as we bilinguists like to call it, Rheadr Faer Jin Sych Cymru.

It comes in a very distinctive light blue bottle with a convex neck and a wax covering over a synthetic cork stopper. The front of the bottle has one of those Celtic designs which were once all the rage amongst those who sported tattoos and the double lls in the Anglicised version of the hooch’s name are elongated to represent the eponymous waterfalls.

Mercifully, the spirit is clear and uncoloured and once the tightly fitting stopper is removed accompanied by an inviting and satisfying sound, the aroma that assails one’s nostrils is primarily one of juniper with notes of citrus coming through. To the taste it presents itself as a well-balanced mix between the spicy elements in the mix and the citrus with juniper to the fore. The aftertaste is a subtle and pleasing mix of sweet and spice. With an ABV of 41.3% it makes for a moreish and satisfying drink and for someone who loves variations on the more traditional London Dry Gin model this is certainly right down my stryd.

As to what is in the gin, it is hard to be certain but my educated guess would put juniper, liquorice, angelica and coriander seeds in there with grapefruit, lemon and orange. There may be more, who knows? What is certain is that it is distilled in a small copper still using the pure waters from the Aber Falls which gush down from the Snowdonia mountain range. For the more adventurous Aber Falls Distillery offers a Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and an Orange Marmalade Gin.

You may have realised by now that the Aber Falls distillery is Welsh. More accurately, it is to be found in North Wales in the village of Abergwyngregyn, at the foot of the waterfall. It is one of only four distilleries (currently) in Wales and the only one in the northern half of the country – indeed, there hasn’t been one there for over a century – occupying what was originally a slate works and then a margarine factory.

The original objective in establishing the distillery was, and is, to distill whisky but, as we have noted before, it takes such a long time. With time on their hands, the equipment and space, James Wright and his team noticed the boom in gin and decided to get a slice of the action. This they have done with some aplomb and their Welsh Dry Gin is a very welcome addition to my gin shelf.

The first batch of whisky should be available in the autumn of 2020.

Until the next time, lloniannau!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty One

There is an app for pretty much everything these days, it seems. It is not surprising then that some apps have emerged to capitalise on the ginaissance. Even for a luddite like myself, it is handy to have an encyclopaedia of gins at my beck and call stored on my phone as I peruse the shelves looking for a new gin to explore.

I’m using Ginventory which lists 5,099 different gins from around the world together with descriptions of varying length and quality, culled from the distillers’ websites, plus suggestions for mixers and garnishes. There are even buttons that direct you to the websites of wholesaler so you can order the hooch there and then. It would be helpful if there were independent reviews of each of the gins but, perhaps, that is asking for too much. That said, I’m hooked.

I’ve always been a bit snooty about the German discount supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl, which have emerged here in Blighty over the last decade or so to disrupt the once cosy cartel that the likes of Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury had over the shopping needs of the Brits. Entering their stores has always seemed to me to be a bit of a depressing experience. Utilitarian they certainly are – the lack of choice and the absence of any discernible care in which they display their merchandise remind me of the East German supermarkets I visited before the Wall came down – but they score on price.

And they are making a determined effort to gouge out a place in the gin boom. In our local Lidl my attention was piqued by a rather distinctive, bell-shaped bottle that contained their contribution to the artisan gin market, Hortus Original London Dry Gin. The label had what can only be described as a wreath of botanicals in lavender against a white background with the name of the hooch in the middle, a bee and some basic information to the effect that it was distilled in England – Warrington, actually, and, presumably, courtesy of Greenall’s – and that it was traditionally distilled in copper stills.

Around the neck of the bottle, which had a nice dark blue covering, was hung at a rather jaunty angle a card giving serving suggestions and a modicum of information about the product. The stopper, artificial cork, makes a very satisfying plopping sound as it is removed. With a fighting weight of 40% ABV, at the lower end of the strength range but still strong enough to give the toper a bit of a kick, and a price of £15.99, almost half of what you would pay for an independent artisan gin, it proved a temptation that was too much to resist.

And a wise investment it proved to be.

On removing the stopper the smell of juniper immediately hit my nostrils, always a good starting point, with some citric elements in the background. To the taste it was remarkably smooth with a big juniper kick. Then came some floral elements making it quite refreshing and moreish. The aftertaste had hints of lavender and liquorice or that is what it seemed like to me. I was pleasantly surprised.

Lidl are rather coy as to what precisely are the botanicals that go in to the mix. Apart from juniper there is certainly lavender, rosemary, lemon verbena and cubebs. There is certainly more but quite what I haven’t been able to discover. All the botanicals, apparently, are carefully added by hand and left to steep for at least eight hours before distillation. An image of a tortoise on the card providing this basic information is presumably meant to indicate that this is a slow process.

I think that there is too much nonsense around the unusual botanicals that have been thrown into the mix. For the consumer the only questions are; what does it taste like and is it worth the money? Lidl’s contribution to the artisan gin market certainly scores well on both points.

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty

One of the discernible trends of the ginaissance in 2018 is the increasing availability (and, presumably, concomitant popularity) of pink and rosé gins. I have already fulminated about oddly coloured drinks and whilst a light pink liquid is less offensive to my finely tuned sensitivities, it feeds straight in to another of my prejudices, my dislike of rosé wines. To my mind they are a sign of indecision. Make your mind up, go red or white. I must admit though I did have a rather fine Corsican rosé in La Rochelle this summer – the choice of my host – which caused me some mental perturbation but I soon got over it.

Notwithstanding all this mental baggage that goes along with pink liquids, I’m not one to let a trend go completely by unacknowledged and decided to pick up a bottle of Larios Rosé Premium Gin from the duty-free shop in Alicante airport. It was a moment of madness, akin to picking up a tasteless piece of tat as a souvenir for the woman who has looked after your pet goldfish whilst you have been away.

Aesthetically, the bottle is impressive. The clear, tall bottle showcases the pink of the gin perfectly and the swirly, gold effects around the front label make the trademark name of Larios, in white, stand out. Just so you don’t miss the differentiator of this particular gin, there is an image of a  strawberry on the screwcap and above the part of the front label which announces “Premium Gin Mediterranea.” The colouring and the elegance of the design makes it stand out and is a welcome, decorative addition to any shelf of gin bottles.

The label at the back goes into more detail about what’s inside. It is, it says, “a delicate result of four distillations and the blending of wild juniper with citrus fruits of the Mediterranean and the intense aroma of the strawberries.”  The copywriter then becomes more lyrical, claiming it is “a gin with a mild balanced taste that transports the sense to that rosy moment of the Mediterranean dawn.” I’ve never seen a Mediterranean dawn – perhaps it’s the gin – but I get the drift.

The trouble starts when you open the bottle. The aroma is overpoweringly of strawberries, no bad thing in itself, but this smell rather clinical and sickly. The neck has also become unusually sticky, perhaps because of the amount of sugar in the hooch, something I’ve not experienced before with my gins.

In the glass the spirit is a pleasing shade of light pink, clear and at 37.5% ABV it won’t blow your espadrilles off. But the taste!

So strong is the flavour of strawberry that it is hard to detect any other of the botanicals in the mix. The juniper decided to give up the fight and the citrus elements didn’t seem even to make it to the starting line. It also had a rather astringent aftertaste, making it a rather unpleasant drinking experience. Even the addition of a Mediterranean tonic didn’t help matters overly.

I’m told that it is better as an ingredient in a cocktail but if you need to add other liquors to drown out the overpowering taste of naff strawberries, what’s the point? I am going to keep it to appreciate its aesthetic qualities on my gin shelf, in the knowledge that it will only retain the pink colouration if I drink it. So I expect it to be a rather permanent fixture unless I pick up a winter cough.

Until the next time, cheers!